What's the best programming language for modern developers?
That's an impossible question to answer, of course, because what's "best" depends on what app you're building, where you're building it, and where it needs to run — not to mention what your preferences and priorities are.
The best modern programming language for creating a mobile app for iPhones is probably going to be different from the best language for building a data analytics app that you deploy in the public cloud. Likewise, if performance is your top concern, you'll likely want a different language than you would if ease of use matters most.
Whatever your situation, however, you'll find useful guidance on the best programming languages for modern developers in our latest "buyer's" guide. (We put "buyer's" in quotes because this isn't a buyer's guide — programming languages are not something you buy, after all — as much as it's a comparative guide designed to help you understand the key differences between today's most popular languages.) The guide compares key features across nine of today's most popular programming languages — including both interpreted and compiled options.
Keep reading for an overview of what you'll find in our 2022 programming language guide, and why we designed it as we did.
Top Programming Language Features for Modern Developers
In creating the guide, we had to make hard choices about which programming language features matter most to modern developers — meaning those working in a world defined by DevOps, CI/CD, the cloud, and microservices architectures.
We decided to focus on the following factors:
- Portability: Portability refers to how easy it is to build an app that can run not just on any operating system, but also on any type of hardware — desktops, servers, phones, IoT devices, and beyond. In a world where you never know which platform you may have to support next, highly portable languages are advantageous.
- Use case breadth: In general, modern developers want languages that support a breadth of use cases so they can learn one language and use it to do many different things. Some languages are great for this purpose. Others, however, are oriented toward just one or two main tasks — like web development.
- Concurrency: Concurrency is important for modern development because it helps programmers build apps that are fast and efficient. Although it's possible to write concurrent code in virtually any language, some languages make it easier to implement concurrency than others.
- Modularity: Managing code at scale — as many modern teams have to do — is easier when code can be broken into modules or other objects. Here again, while modularity is possible with any language, certain languages lend themselves to modular architectures better than others.
- Code verbosity: Most developers like to get a job done with as few characters and lines of code as possible. The language you choose can have a big impact on how much code you have to churn out to accomplish a task.
- Execution speed: The ability to run fast is a primary consideration for many — though not all — programming use cases.
- Efficiency: The efficiency of software means how many resources it consumes to run. Efficiency affects the hosting cost of applications, and it determines how many apps you can run at once on infrastructure of fixed capacity — both of which are important considerations for modern development.
- Community vibrancy: Having an active developer community where you can find tips, ask questions, borrow code, and so on is an advantage in today's world — where the fastest way to solve a problem may be to post in a forum or pull someone else's code from GitHub rather than try to figure it out all on your own.
- Ease of testing: You can test code in any language, but depending on the testing frameworks your code supports, testing — especially automated testing — may be harder or easier.
- Ease of deployment: It's easier to deploy software in some languages than others. The differences depend mostly on how much effort it takes to package and distribute the code, and which tools you have to use for those processes.
- Overall ease of use: "Ease" is in the eye of the beholder, but we used this category to sum up overall takeaways about how easy it is to learn and use each programming language.
To be sure, there are plenty of considerations beyond these that programmers might care about when selecting a programming language. But we thought these were the most straightforward characteristics to consider.
What About Programming Language Security?
If you're wondering why we didn't include a category related to the security of each language, it's because programming language security is such a broad topic that it's hard to summarize fairly.
There are so many ways to exploit software, and so many mistakes developers could make (not just within code, but also when creating and deploying packages, defining dependencies, and so on) to introduce vulnerabilities, that it didn't seem fair to slap a generic label on each language from a security perspective. Plus, in general, none of the languages we evaluated offers special security features, so there wouldn't have been a lot to compare on the security front. (This category may have been more relevant if we had evaluated languages like Rust, but we didn't because they aren't among the very most popular languages today.)
Why Didn't You Include My Favorite Programming Language?
Admittedly, the nine languages we chose to evaluate represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the languages available to modern developers. There are lots of great languages — like Rust, Ruby, and Perl, to name just a few — that we skipped.
The reason why is that we couldn't consider every language in the world, so we chose what we think are the most important languages. By "important" we mean mostly the top 15 languages according to the TIOBE Index, minus those (like SQL) that are restricted to specific use cases, or those (like Objective-C) that are too similar in purpose to languages we did evaluate (like Swift).
If you want complete details on how today's most popular programming languages compare across the categories that matter most for modern developers (according to us, at least), download our free 2022 Guide to Modern Programming Languages.